IF THEY GAVE names to the seasons of Mad Men, the fifth and current season would be titled “Unhappy Campers.” Have we ever seen so many of the characters in the throes of despair? Other than Peggy Olsen, who seems sure of herself if not joyous, and Roger Sterling, his spirits buoyed by an LSD trip and une pipe Québécoise, S5 has been a veritable parade of misery.
Don Draper, in particular, has been in a funk all season; once a superhero, his high point involved fixing Pete Campbell’s sink. Even some zou bisou bisou did not cheer him. Will his fortunes change, or will he bottom out, as Sterling Cooper Draper Price seems destined to?
With just three episodes left in S5, it’s high time we take stock of what’s happened so far and announce six things that are absolutely, positively guaranteed to happen (or not to happen)* before the end of June 10’s season finale:
1. Pete Campbell will not kill himself…
This theory, advanced by Robin Sayers at Salon after S5’s first episode, has legs. One could write a term paper on death imagery in the current season, and most of it seems to involve Pete.
Although he has, on paper, an enviable life—a good job on the verge of really taking off; far and away the best wife of any of the show’s characters (even Don likes Trudy!); and a healthy child (two, actually)—no character on the show is more steeped in self-loathing than Pete Campbell. His accomplishments at the firm are regarded with so much disdain that when Lane Price challenges him to a fistfight, Don and Roger eagerly watch; his home life depresses him; he struck out pathetically with the cute high school girl at the driver’s ed class; he even tells us, before boinking the Gilmore Girl sans merci, that his life insurance policy pays out even in the event of suicide.
He says this while reading The Crying of Lot 49, the paranoiac masterpiece by Thomas Pynchon. In Lot 49, Oedipa Maas, the protagonist, finds the “muted horn” symbol seemingly everywhere, and we’re never quite sure if this is real or a product of a hyperactive imagination. That an artless stick like Campbell is even aware of that novel is the single most unbelievable thing that’s ever happened on the show. The appearance of the book in that episode, I’d argue, is a warning not to read into all the Pete Campbell/suicide references.
Furthermore, love him or hate him—or both at the same time—Pete Campbell is, along with Don and Peggy, one of the three characters essential to the show. No Pete Campbell, no Mad Men. The kid stays in the picture.
2. …but someone will die.
All that death imagery has to foreshadow something. Heck, even the Beatles album they listen to is called Revolver. Remember when Don hits the button and the elevator opens to an open shaft, and he stares into the abyss? Somebody’s going to walk into that elevator without looking and go splat.
My money’s on Megan, for several reasons. First, she’s one of the few expendable characters on the show. I’ve talked to a number of Mad Men fans lately, and all of them have this in common: they hate poor Megan. I think it’s because she’s a bad fit with Don; the Drapers 2.0 are an even worse couple than the ill-fated Betty-Don tandem. In any event, it’s not like anyone would be upset were she to buy the farm; her death would not be as devastating as, say, Adriana’s on The Sopranos.
From a literary standpoint, as my wife pointed out to me, Megan represents what her parents would term naïvété. She is innocent, pure, unjaded. She is true to herself and makes no compromises. Killing Megan off would equivalent to murdering Innocence itself.
Fuck it. Innocence has it coming.
3. Don and Joan will not wind up together.
Ironic and weirdly satisfying as it would be for Don and Joan to wind up raising Roger Sterling’s baby together, it cannot happen. How uncomfortable was that scene where they drank at the bar? He was a little too close; she was a little too flirty. It was like watching a brother hit on his sister.
You know how you can’t look directly at an eclipse—the conjunction of sun and moon—or the combined radiance will blind you? That’s how I felt watching that scene. Too much…beauty…must…avert…eyes…
4. Lane Price is up shit’s creek.
Lane obviously listened a bit too much to the first track on Revolver, rather than the last, because he tried to evade the British Taxman. Now he’s in hot water. Out of legal trouble in his native England, he’s about to wind up in Sing-Sing (located, incidentally, in Ossining, the town Betty and Don once called home) for embezzlement and forgery. And Joan will be the one to catch him. Poor Lane! At least he was around long enough to sock Campbell.
5. Harry Crane, too.
Ironic that Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of prosperity, as she will cost Crane a pretty penny. Crane has generously liberated his friend Paul Kinsey from the Hare Krishnas, but in so doing, sealed his own doom. Crane’s closed-office-door dalliance with Mother Lakshmi will ruin him. She will show up with a big belly in a few months and demand financial support…or else. He won’t be able to call her bluff without his wife finding out, so it’s blackmail time for one of the few characters on Mad Men who actually seemed happy this season.
6. Betty Draper will lose more than half a pound.
She doesn’t need Weight Watchers; what she needs is an increase in her synthroid dosage. If her weight gain was related to her thyroid, it will come off right quick with the right pills, and she can resume binging on Cool-Whip and undermining her daughter. And hey, if all else fails, we’re only a few years away from Atkins.
* Guarantees will not be honored.